The solar eclipse has freed me from my imprisonment, allowing me to post this chapter. Hopefully, the next one will be out in less than a year.
Chapter 30: Rising action
"So for the foreseeable future, none of us will be leaving the village," Kakashi said to his unimpressed students, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment.
"If this is the reward we get for doing well on our missions," Sakura said with a frown, "We may have to rethink how we approach our careers."
"Yeah," Sasuke continued, "I can't just stay in the village forever, I'll need to track down Itachi eventually."
"Meh," Naruto countered, "The Hokage doesn't leave the village all that much, so being stuck here because of awesome missions is one step closer to the hat."
The three other members took a second to look at Naruto as they processed his logic.
"Mmmmmmmmoooooving on," Kakashi eventually said, "All of my afternoons will be spent on special training with the Hokage to bring my skills up to snuff. We'll meet in the mornings so we can do physical training and so I get an overview of your progress. But while I'm otherwise occupied, your time will be spent in a variety of different ways. For the next few days, I'll be leaving you to your own devices because we couldn't throw anything else together fast enough.
"And after the next few days?" Sakura asked curiously.
"Starting next week, you three will be on a rotating attachment with the other promising genin teams. You'll spend a few days with different instructors and their students: training with them and showing off your skills."
"What teams?" Sasuke asked.
"Teams 8, 9 and 10 mostly, but you may also get attached to some specialist teams if I can swing it with the Hokage."
"What teams?" Naruto asked confusedly.
"I just told you."
"Yeah, you gave use their team numbers," Naruto defended, "That doesn't mean I know who's on those teams."
"Team 8 is Hinata, Shino, and Kiba," Sakura interjected, "We went to the academy with them?"
"Doesn't mean I remember their team number the from the one time it was mentioned on our Orientation day."
"And Team 10 is Shikamaru, Chouji, and" Sasuke added with a grimace, "Ino."
"Since it's apparently make-fun-of-Naruto-day-" Naruto said with a frown
"Just like everyday," the rest of team 7 chorused.
"Who's Team 9?" Naruto sighed.
"No idea," Sakura answered, prompting Naruto to grin.
"Kakashi-sensei?" Sasuke asked.
"Who's on Team 9?" Sasuke said, keeping his voice level.
"Hmmmm," Kakashi mused for a second before answering, "I think I'll leave that a surprise for now. We're already late for our first training session since we got back in Konoha, and I want to see how far you three have slipped."
"Slipped?" Sasuke enunciated.
"Oh, it is ON!" Naruto cried.
"Then we'll start with stretches and then move on to a few dozen laps of the lake."
Several stretches and a few half-dozen laps of the lake later
'You know, this running is a lot easier than I remember.' Sakura thought as she managed to keep pace with the boys on her team. 'I'm not even winded yet.'
'Of course it's easier, Marathon, you spent most of your mission running kilometers every day, before having to run for 18 hours to raise the alarm at Konoha.'
'But' Sakura answered, 'That was before a week of recovery and light training'
'You still got a good deal of practice internalizing both the kinesthetics of running and using chakra to enhance your physical attributes.'
'You're right,' Sakura agreed, 'I think this is going to be a good day'
Then she poured on the speed, leaving her genin teammates behind until they reflexively sped up to try and catch her.
A few half-dozen laps later.
After their run, the genin went on to do push-ups, sit-ups, curls, lunges, and various other exercises and stretches, and each one seemed easier to Sakura than she remembered.
'Yeah' Sakura thought to herself, 'This is going to be a greeeeeaaaaat day.'
So your physical stats all seem to be fine, Time for Taijutsu. Naruto, Sakura," Kakashi said to his genin, "You're up first."
The two genin grinned as they took their starting positions in the Training Ground's clearing while their instructor and final teammate.
"Yes, Kakashi-sensei" both genin called out.
Sakura promptly charged at Naruto-
-only to be laid out in two seconds.
"Ouw~~~~~" Sakura weakly cried from her place on the ground.
"Huh," Kakashi said, "Let's try that again. Sakura, this time I want you to take this seriously."
"But I did take this seriously." Sakura protested as she got up and took a stance.
Sakura poured chakra into her muscles as she charged Naruto again with much greater speed, probing his defense with several jabs, only for each hit to be dodged or deflected with ease. The kunoichi continued to throw punches, and each one was trivially turned aside by Naruto, despite the fact that Naruto appeared to be moving sluggishly compared to Sakura's enhanced speed.
The fight continued on for another minute as Sakura continued to attack despite the fact that she just. could. not. land. a. hit.
Naruto wasn't even blocking any hits, every strike was either dodged or deflected, but it appeared as though he couldn't form a counter to Sakura's newfound speed.
Eventually, the deadlock was broken, as Naruto caught the ground with the tip of his sandal, before kicking up, spraying dirt into Sakura's face. When she reflexively covered her eyes with her forearm, Naruto surged forward, grabbing her wrist and pulling her forward, tripping Sakura over his leg as he sidestepped. Sakura crashed to the ground, only for Naruto to leverage his hold of her wrist into an arm-bar and end the spar.
"Naruto wins," Kakashi announced, "Naruto, if you're feeling up to it, you'll spar with Sasuke next."
After a second, Naruto jolted, letting Sakura out of his grip, "Sure, Kakashi-sensei."
Sakura got up and slowly walked over to stand next to her teacher while Sasuke took a stance across from Naruto. As the fight started, Sakura looked at them and came to an odd realization.
'They're both moving slowly.'
'Nope, in fact, I think they're both faster than the last time you sparred.'
Naruto had taken the offensive and actually pushed Sasuke back a few steps as the two boys began to fall into their fight.
'But I can see all their moves. I couldn't do that before. Why are they so slow?"
'Cool it Sakura, if you notice, Sasuke is actually holding his own against Naruto, which is more than you can say right now.'
'Well fuck you too, Ishi'
Having grown frustrated at Naruto's movements, Sasuke finally activated his Sharingan, stepped inside one of Naruto's straights, grabbed the extended arm and fell backward, kicking Naruto in the stomach as they both fell, launching his opponent over him. Sasuke quickly jumped up and turned to face Naruto, who had fallen in an undignified sprawl.
'So if I'm moving faster, why couldn't I land a hit on Naruto?.' Sakura thought to herself as the two boys continued their spar.
The boys fight continued on for several more minutes before Kakashi called the spar as a tie. As the two boys made the seal of reconciliation, Kakashi moved the group from Taijutsu to Ninjutsu. As the three genin moved to the edge of the clearing and picked a tree to climb, Sakura thought to herself, 'The boys were always better at Taijutsu than me, but at least this will be a breeze.'
Naruto and Sasuke both ran up their trees under Kakashi's supervision, while Sakura smiled to herself and leapt at the tree, reaching out with her chakra-
-Only for the bark to shatter under her foot.
Sakura flipped backward because of the force of the splintering tree-bark, nearly losing control of her fall in shock.
The three other members of Team 7 stopped and stared at Sakura's mistake.
'So much for "This is going to be a great day."'
"The hell?" Sasuke said.
After a few seconds of silence, Kakashi spoke up, "Why don't you try that again, Sakura."
"Try again," Sakura muttered, "Yeah, try again."
'The bark shattered, so try easing into it.'
Sakura approached the tree and lifted her foot, pressing it to the tree bark, leaning into the wood, but keeping her back-foot on the ground. She slowly pushed her chakra into the wood, and frowned as she felt the tree push back against her as the bark began to splinter. Slowly easing off on her chakra, Sakura closed her eyes and focused on the interplay between her chakra and the tree. After a second, she found the proper force to adhere to the surface and began to walk up the tree.
"I guess you were just a little excited to be using chakra again," Kakashi sighed.
After several seconds, Sakura worked her way up from carefully walking up a tree, to her typical gymnastics.
"Jutsu, next," Kakashi called out to his students.
Naruto dropped to the ground, formed a cross seal, and summoned several shadow clones.
Sasuke remained up in his tree and blew a fireball at the flock of Narutos, who Flickered away or sank into the earth.
Sakura's hands blurred as she looked at one of Naruto's still visible clones.
The other ninja waited expectantly.
'Was that supposed to do something?'
Sakura frowned, before taking a deep breath and blurring her hands again. This time, a Naruto spasmed, accidentally slapping and dispelling another clone.
Naruto pointed and laughed at his clone's misfortune.
Troubled by her initial failure, Sakura decided to switch to something easier than the Regency Technique.
Again, Sakura's hands blurred. In a puff of smoke, two more Sakuras appeared, each illusionary clone pale and sickly.
"Are you sure you're alright Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked with some concern as he and Sasuke flickered over to their teammate, "You never mess up techniques, ever."
"I don't know what's wrong," Sakura answered, "If I focus, I don't have any problems with the techniques, but if I just try to reflexively do them, something goes wrong."
"When I have time, I'll ask around if any medics have any advice." Kakashi said in a deliberately calm voice, "But for now, I think you should probably just do some extra control exercises and jutsu practice. Start with tree-walking, and if you're not having problems in an hour, move up to water walking."
"And after an hour of that?" Sakura asked.
Kakashi brought his hands up, with his index fingers touching, "Pass chakra between your fingers, then slowly move them apart while maintaining a continuous flow of chakra between your fingers, keep your chakra moving as slowly as possible until you manage to get a static thread between your fingertips."
"Got It!" Sakura cheered as she fist-pumped.
In the Hokage's Office
"So when can I start working with them?" Jiraiya asked his former teacher, as he scribbled in a notebook while seated in front of the Hokage's desk.
"Tomorrow" the older man answered, as he puffed on his pipe, "Today you're going to help me evaluate Kakashi's skills in preparation for his training regimen."
"And I can teach them whatever I want?" Jiraiya asked, with a note of hope in his voice.
"No Forbidden techniques and no suicide techniques," the Hokage answered as he extinguished his pipe and began to clean it, "With the exception of whatever fuuinjutsu you teach Sakura. But other than that, feel free to do as you please."
"That must be Kakashi-kun now," Hiruzen said as he stood up, "Now let's get to it, it's been far too long since I've had a student."
At Training Ground 7
Though Kakashi's instructions for chakra-control practice were intended only for Sakura, in light of her new minor difficulties (which were trivial for a normal ninja, but unprecedented for his insane kunoichi student), Naruto and Sasuke joined their teammate as she practiced walking up trees and then walking on water.
The two boys found their practice as successful as it had been when they performed this exercise during their time training on their last mission.
Sakura, however, spent several dozen frustrating minutes re-achieving the perfection she had effortlessly managed the first time she practiced her two exercises.
After spending an hour each on climbing and water-walking, the three students all sat down in the shade of a tree at the edge of Training Ground 7's clearing, closed their eyes, and steepled their hands as they attempted to form chakra strings. Their focus lasted for a record-breaking five minutes.
"Mmmmmmmm," Naruto hummed absently as he attempted to focus.
"Shut up, moron," Sasuke said as he opened his eyes to glare at his blond teammate.
"You shut up, asshole, I'm trying to focus." Naruto shot back.
"Both of you idiots shut up: if you're going to snipe at each other, you might as well skip to the spar already," Sakura said sarcastically as she cracked open a single eye to give her teammates a look.
At this suggestion, Naruto and Sasuke turned to each other. Sasuke cocked an eyebrow, to which Naruto shrugged. In sync, the two boys stood up and began walking towards the center of the clearing. Naruto picked up a rock and tossed it into the air before taking up a stance which was mirrored by Sasuke. The two boys refused to take their eyes off each other as the pebble continued its arc.
When the stone finally landed, Sasuke and Naruto charged each other and began exchanging blows.
Meanwhile, Sakura sighed, closed her eyes again, and continued attempting to form a string with her chakra.
'Where do I even begin with this?' Sakura thought to herself.
'Remember when you hung from a tree by sticking a pole to the underside of a branch, instead of your feet?'
'So I should try to do that-'
'Through the air' Ishi completed her thought.
Sakura continued to focus her chakra, extending it from her fingertips, sticking her steepled hands together, then slowly pulling them apart. When her chakra began resisting her attempts to separate her index fingers, she redirected it. The chakra emanating from each finger was guided out to grab at the air, compressing it slightly. When her two tendrils of chakra met, she felt a circuit complete, a circuit that she focused to maintain.
Sakura slowly brought her hands closer together and felt her chakra being pushed into loops as she stopped just short of touching her index fingers together.
As she slowly began to separate her fingers again, the inch or so of air she held in place with her chakra was pulled taut until she couldn't spread her fingers apart anymore, as they had reached the limits of her tiny thread.
At this point, the girl opened her eyes and stared at amazement at the effervescent blue line that connected her two fingers. Admittedly the short line wasn't going to set any records, but it was another new technique in her arsenal, and one she could see would be incredibly flexible if it could be mastered.
Renewing her focus, Sakura attempted to grab more air and extend her line, watching as the glow began to slowly warp as it went slack, more line allowing the construct to droop from between her fingers, even as she slowly spread her hands further apart.
'Try directly shaping the thread' Ishi thought to her
Sakura started, her hands swinging out to her sides as she flinched from Ishi's comment. Unfortunately, with her focus shot, the string immediately dissipated, destroying what little progress she had had.
'DAMMIT ISHI' Sakura practically screamed at her imaginary friend, 'Don't scare me like that'.
'Calm down, Sakura' Ishi attempted to mollify her, 'you can try again with no problems.'
"Ha!" Sasuke's voice interrupted, "1:0, moron"
Sakura looked over at Sasuke, where he and Naruto were lying in an undignified sprawl of tangled limbs
"As if," Naruto shot back, "Don't try to pretend you're winning this."
"Please," Sasuke snorted, "you can't get out of my hold without breaking your leg."
In response to this, Naruto looked at Sasuke's left arm, which he was holding taut and twisted.
"SHIT!" Sasuke forced out, "Let go of my arm, moron!"
The two boys continued to wrestle, beginning to bite and scratch where they could, all semblance of technique abandoned.
As she watched two trained and disciplined shinobi roll in the dirt like school children, Sakura sighed and stood up and stomped over to the two boys.
When she stood over them she started telling them off.
"Oy, idiots, calm down, you look like Korohimura-chan fighting for the last sweet-bread!"
Sasuke and Naruto continued to wrestle, ignoring their chastisement.
At this point, Sakura huffed, before drawing her left leg back and beginning to kick her two teammates as they were down on the ground. Almost immediately, the two fighters froze, each maintaining an awkward hold on the other: Sasuke held one of Naruto's arms behind his back while pulling on the blond's messy hair, while Naruto had Sasuke's legs pinned beneath him as he used his free arm to attempt to apply pressure to Sasuke's left knee.
"Now," Sakura forced out, "Are you going to let each other go, accept a draw, and continue your training, or am I going to have to keep kicking you?"
Naruto turned his head to glance at Sasuke, who cocked an eyebrow.
Naruto answered with a half-shrug, as one of his arms was still restrained.
On some unspoken signal, Sasuke's hand snaked out and grabbed Sakura's ankle, and pulled, while one of Naruto's legs reached out a pushed the pinkette backward.
Sakura shrieked as she fell to the ground.
At that point, what had been a spar devolved into a free-for-all melee with three participants.
Kakashi sat in a lotus position, eye closed as he began his training. To his left, a candle flickered, while to his right, a mirror stood imperiously.
The Jonin calmly sat and meditated in the center of a large Tao pattern, beginning a difficult, yet simple, preparation for his new technique.
At Training Ground 7
All three genin were panting, exhausted as they lay on the ground, laughing at the childish wrestling match that had lasted for the better part of an hour.
"I still say I won," Sasuke said as he reached up to wipe some sweat from his brow.
Sakura and Naruto both snorted, before responding in unison, "As if."
AN: Does anyone want to guess at the cause of Sakura's new chakra control troubles?